Reforming child protection is typically understood as taking needed action to improve and enhance child protection practice at the national or state level or within an area such as a military or tribal jurisdiction. Child protection within this context is perceived as a conceptual whole, as a singular structure. From that perspective, for example, we talk about the national or state child protection system and work to improve and enhance the system. It also lets us say things like, The system is broken, and then recommend ways to fix the broken system.
As pointed out above, there is no child protection system, although there are local agencies and some programs appropriately viewed as systems within the larger child protection aggregation. Reform efforts thus focus on selected aspects of the aggregation with the goal of introducing new elements, adding resources to existing elements, correcting malfunctioning elements, or improving the functioning of specific elements. Through legislative and administrative action, new programs or services may be added, existing programs or services may be expanded or reduced, and the rules and procedures associated with specific programs or services may be modified.
Earlier, I argued child protection practice must become standards driven. The paradigm underlying child protection must first shift from emphasis on rules and on legislative and administrative prescription to an understanding of the outcomes expected for children and families. In turn, emphasis must further shift to consensus based standards serving as clear markers for practice appropriateness and effectiveness. The best interest of children does not substantially vary from time to time, from place to place, from situation to situation. There are standards that apply to all children, to each child. Until we identify those standards as they apply to child protection, we will continue to rationalize inadequate practice and justify insufficient intervention with and on behalf of children.
In addition to being standards driven, the new child protection paradigm must be best practice based. The best interest of children is not merely a matter of opinion. There are evidence based approaches and processes objectively better than other approaches and processes as well as approaches and processes that clearly do not support and further the best interests of children. Child protection practice must move beyond the current procedural approach to a level of continuous invention where better and more effective approaches and processes are developed for assuring the safety and well being of children. Those alternative approaches must in turn be carefully tested and empirically verified. It is possible to determine what constitutes best practice and we must follow the path to that understanding.
Committing to standards driven child protection that is based on best practice approaches and procedures requires a concomitant re-conceptualization of child protection reform. Simply relying on introducing new elements, adding resources to existing elements, correcting malfunctioning elements, or improving the functioning of specific elements is not sufficient. We must literally re-form child protection. The aggregate nature of child protection represents a form that effectively precludes a coherent, comprehensive approach to change and invites some version of the current pick-and-choose process we use. The need is for a standards driven, best practice based model representing an ideal, comprehensive child protection system. This model would then serve as the vision for future development, including legislative and administrative action. Instead of efforts to fix child protection, our work would focus on continuously approaching the known ideal. To the extent we clearly know where we are going and how child protection will look when we get there, we increase the likelihood of achieving safety and well being for each abused and neglected child, each time we intervene. We will be better assured we truly are doing the right things right, the first time, on time, every time, one child at a time.
Gary A. Crow, Ph.D. GAC@GaryCrow.net || and visit www.GaryCrow.net.